Time catching up with another sports legend

As a little kid, I got to see Willie Mays in person once, as a pinch-hitter for the New York Mets at
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning throws a pass during Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning throws a pass during Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

As a little kid, I got to see Willie Mays in person once, as a pinch-hitter for the New York Mets at the very end of his career.

He hobbled through a 6-4-3 double play.

That image of Mays’ last season hanging on with the Mets, forged in a boy’s mind, lasts to this day, even if it in no way mitigates the artistry and brilliance of a career that ranks among the very best in the history of the game.

Partially proof of that came Monday, when word came down that Mays and Yogi Berra will be among those receiveing the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

But one could have thought of Mays on Sunday, his greatness and his last days. All you had to do was watch Peyton Manning as he passed Brett Favre to become the all-time passing yardage leader, and passed for four interceptions on a 5-for-20, 35-yard day and passed teammates on the way to being benched.

A legend, reduced by wear and tear and age, has been reduced to less-than-pedestrian. He’s battling foot and rib injuries, but the truth is Manning — never a fireballer to begin with — had lost all zip on his passes halfway through last season. He has been getting by on guile and his unparalleled football mind.

Not any more. Manning has 9 TDs and 17 interceptions this season. He can’t throw the deep out without a bunny step. This is the quarterback he is, not the legend he was.

This has all been house money, these years with the Denver Broncos. Manning has never missed a start due to injury except for the 2011 season, a year he sat out after neck surgery. He left the Indianapolis Colts after that; the move could have been a Johnny Unitas-to-San Diego Chargers last gasp. Instead, Manning returned with his best season ever.

But his time was always limited. And now, it’s up, over, whether he admits it or not.

The Broncos are sitting the first-ballot Hall of Famer and going with longtime heir apparent Brock Osweiler, at least for this week. Peyton has his record(s). He has his one ring with the Colts. This Denver team has a defense to go to a Super Bowl with a quarterback who is merely a caretaker. And Manning is not even that anymore.

We, as fans, like it when star athletes leave at just the right time — but that is rare phenomenon. Jerome Bettis and John Elway and Derek Jeter pulled it off, to name a few. Barry Sanders and Jim Brown departed too soon. A whole host hung on too long, at least in our collective eyes.

But it’s not our call. As long as a team is willing to pay, an athlete has every right to loiter as long as they can. Mays, Babe Ruth (Boston Braves) and Hank Aaron (Milwaukee Brewers) all returned for final inglorious seasons in their original cities, albeit for different franchises. It was not pretty. But it’s not for fans to decide.

But it is up to teams to decide whether to put these athletes in the lineup. Manning said he may have made a mistake taking the field Sunday while injured.

“Maybe that was wrong,” Manning said. “I was going in there trying to help the team, I ended up hurting the team. I’m disappointed about that.”

Now it’s up to coach Gary Kubiak, who did the once-unthinkable and sat Manning down Sunday, to sit him for the foreseeable future.

Which may mean for good.

Kubiak said Manning is still his quarterback. His decision is wrong; it’s based on history, on a name, on stats that are as irrelevant to the next game as Joe Montana’s.

Say what you want about his 11-13 postseason record, but Peyton Manning is going down as one of the top three or so quarterbacks in NFL history, along with Tom Brady and fill-in-the-third here. If you were building the perfect QB, you would start with Peyton’s brain and go from there.

The brain is intact. The body is not.

The calendar says November, but it is late December in a Hall of Fame career. We have watched greatness rise, flourish and now linger in hobbled pain. It’s time for Manning to sit, his Sunday action relegated to pizza and insurance commercials.

Right call, still wrong rule

All the experts were in agreement that Odell Beckham Jr.’s touchdown-that-wasn’t Sunday against the New England Patriots was the right call.

To recount: Two hands on the ball, full possession, two feet down, across the plane of the goal line.

Not a touchdown. Why? He did not maintain a catch long enough to “become a runner.”

The following has become a refrain that has carried over from the 2014 NFL season into this one: The average NFL fan no longer knows what constitutes a catch. And that is a problem for The Shield.

The league keeps massaging the rules to clarify. What it needs to do is simplify: Ball in control, two feet down and possession should be a catch. Instead of adding elements (going to the ground, etc.), the NFL should be subtracting them from the rules, so everyone from players and coaches to corner-barstool-guy/gal knows what’s going on.

Categories: Sports

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